This summer I had the opportunity to help recognize and honor the top business innovators in Minnesota and neighboring states. It convinced me of two things:
• The Twin Cities has a bounty of ambitious, creative business leaders.
• We’re doing a lot of things right.
I served on the selection panel for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 Upper Midwest Awards in June, adding my background as a journalist, business founder and media executive to the accomplished team of judges.
Together we considered the achievements of a diverse group of business innovators — from Coolibar, a creative clothing manufacturer, to Hot Mama, a national retail brand, to Pawn America.
The awards recognize regional entrepreneurs for business excellence in areas from high growth levels to outstanding innovation, financial performance and community commitment. Collectively, from 2010 to 2012, regional category winners grew their company’s employment by 37 percent and increased their revenue by 51 percent — during a period when many other businesses downsized or declared bankruptcy.
When we asked what it took to be a successful entrepreneur, the finalists cited familiar qualities: perseverance, persistence, passion and confidence. I’d add “great communication” to the top of the list.
Many of these leaders are known for actively seeking out and listening to both their customers and their employees. Listening, an overlooked skill, is a conduit for discovery and a protection against insular leadership.
I also was struck by the finalists’ positive business predictions. All of those surveyed forecast business growth from 11 percent to more than 40 percent for 2013.
They have high expectations for hiring, too: half expect to increase their workforce from 11 percent to 30 percent this year. And 14 percent projected that hiring would reach or exceed 40 percent in 2013.
As you’d expect, it was an optimistic group. Of those surveyed, 85 percent believe that economic opportunities for entrepreneurs are increasing, and that our business environment is creating more opportunity than ever. They choose to expand their companies here because of our strong talent pool, widely available financial resources, and tax incentives.
Their confidence in our economic future — and in our region’s business support system — reminded me of why I started my business here more than 20 years ago.
I’m not a native Minnesotan, so I can say with some objectivity that we enjoy an unparalleled quality of life here. We have a smart and hardworking workforce. We have educational assets in place to help talented workers continue to grow and learn. We have strong professional-services providers, including business and marketing consultants, law firms and others, that offer strategic counsel. And, given the size of our market, we have a disproportionate amount of start-up capital available.
Communities like ours — those that understand how to nurture business innovation — will continue to flourish. But as I learned, starting or restarting a business is incredibly difficult.
Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award reminds us that our region’s most inventive business leaders are right here among us. They need our support, and they deserve our recognition.
About the author: Jim Dolan is chairman, CEO and president of the Dolan Co., a provider of professional services and business information. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org